Monday, December 19, 2011

461. Wessex

A parliament of rooks complain
vociferously, tut-tutting like indignant counsellors
while their carrion cousins, irrepressible crows
swoop and dive like Spitfires: an unpopular
breed of bird, I know, but dashing fliers
with a delinquent sense of fun.
Stand and watch them on a winter’s day.

I love the way, when grounded, they hop,
hoppity-hop, exactly like crotchety pensioners,
and then take off soaring into the sky,
with a kyaa –kyaa, such a contemptuous cry,
and then they drop a little poop on your windscreen.
Bastards! You can’t help but swear and admire
these rock’n’rollers of the avian world.

The broads are soggy
under grey December skies.
The grass rises in tufts and clumps
making for hard walking, making you
glad to be wearing your Wellies again,
with your old Army jacket, your corduroys,
that sense of being safe from the cold.

Tottle! (Aristotle), the setter comes to heel
with his sad, injurious, accusing eyes:
silly boy, that was never any bloody rabbit!
(And just how the hell would you know, sir?)
he says, clear as a bell, in doggy language,
and you give him a rough pat, but he shakes you off,
and lopes loosely, wonderfully across the field.

Dear old boy! Ten years since he was a tiny pup
out of Mirabelle, and she was one of those seven
tiny little things my sister and I … my sister!
Well, those were those days with the Commander
and my Mum, and holidays from that wretched school,
and as I trudge towards the sturdy old familiar house
I think of the warming dram, of the cold welcome.

Friday, December 09, 2011

460. Yoshitakamura

Darling girl.
Do you care what they may say?

Sweetness and light. Shadows.
How it all comes together.

One last kiss ...
a cool firmness
slowly yielding.

Kyrie eleison.

You are so young.

Those tear stains on your cheeks.
That steadiness in your eyes.
Well, then.

Let us go into dark eternal night
together, smiling bravely,
holding hands.


This sort of thing happens over here quite a lot. Generally the lovers are married people -- not to one another, that is -- or else the very young whose families are adamantly opposed to the love choice of a son or daughter, usually the girl.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

459. Samhain

Coinnigh fós mo chroí amaideach,
ní cúis náire dom os comhair na ndaoine.
Impigh mé de tú, mé a iarraidh seo.

Be quiet now my foolish heart,
bring me no shame in the eyes of others.
I ask this of you, I implore you.

Lá go leor agus oíche tar éis a ritheadh
i measc daoine nach bhfuil mo chuid féin a -
Fós tá siad chun bheith amhlaidh.

Many are the days and nights gone by
among this people who are not my own -
Yet they have become so.

Chreid mé mo shaol go raibh mianach,
agus tá sé seo fíor ag amanna áirithe
ach nach bhfuil ag amanna eile.

I had a thought my life was my own,
and this is a true thing at certain times
but at other times not so.


This is not "classical" Irish, more like a stab in the dark - a poke in the right direction. Gaelgeori (the language purists) will be coming after me like the Morríghan. I'll stay a skip and a step ahead: the story of my life so far.

Samhain had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. The Celtic peoples, who were once found all over Europe, divided the year by four major holidays. According to their calendar, the year began on a day corresponding to November 1st on our present calendar. November marked both an ending and a beginning in the eternal cycle.

The pronunciation (for you language freaks) is "saah-wan". Feb. 1 is "Imbolg"; May 1 is "Bealtaine" (bell-tawn); Aug. 1 is "Lunasa" (loon-asa). Instant Celts!

Friday, November 11, 2011

457. armistice

No blinding light of tropical day
nor secrecy of northern night
can further mask our desolation:

an idea is not responsible
for the lives of those who hold it.

Flotsam, jetsam,
such ribald anarchic terms.

Death was kind to you:
a scant scattering of mourners,
myself among them.

The garbled service
was dismal. Predictably so.
I could hear your dry chuckle.

I shall attend your funeral, old boy,
or else you shall attend mine.
I remember you saying that.

People live
as long as other people live
who still remember.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


This is a previous post (2005) which I have bumped up to the head of the queue. Nothing has changed in the facts nor in the feelings and opinions expressed since the time it was first written. "Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori" (It is Sweet and Just/ to die for your Country) may have been an idea scorned and even abhorred in the minds of the young men of the time. Too many of them did die anyway.

Some of the links may be out-of-date. The original post is six years old.

Canadian Memorial, Ypres

Reflections on the Great War of 1914-18

The Great War of 1914-18 has exercised a fascination over me ever since I was a young child. I can remember as a small boy seeing elderly veterans in Dublin barber shops, several of them missing an arm or a leg. I was too young to be taken seriously, of course, and they would just ignore me after a smile or a pat on the head and address themselves to each other. I can't remember much of their talk but there was something in the wry way they would look at one another and smile that I have never forgotten. Memory is selective: when we try to write down the truth of the past we often end up writing fiction, sometimes lies. But I can still remember those faces. Like most children, I realized that the adult world was full of mysteries, yet there was something about the understanding between these men that was different from anything else I had encountered before in the world of Big People. There was a knowledge of some kind which they shared and, whatever it was, it was clear they were never going to share it with me or with anyone else.

The First World War was not popular in Ireland. More than 300,000 young Irishmen went over to fight in France, Gallipoli and the Middle East and 50,000 never returned. A large number of these volunteers won medals for heroic actions but there is no public recognition of their bravery and no public memorials to the sacrifice of the dead. There are no symbols of remembrance. Our country ignores and forgets these young men because they were fighting for the Wrong People in the Wrong War. They have been erased from the national consciousness.

Sunk off the Irish coast, en route from New York to England

I have always felt there was something wrong about this. The President of the Republic went to Ypres a few years ago and joined hands with the Queen of England to honour the Irish dead of the First World War: two middle-aged ladies worried about the rain and their hairdos and what to say at lunch. It was a well-meaning gesture but I don't think it would have made much impression on my soldiers in the barber shop.

The people we are taught to admire in the Irish Republic are the militants who refused to join the British Army for the sake of 'Poor Little Belgium' and who instigated a very serious behind-the-lines rebellion for Poor Little Ireland instead. Our streets and railway stations are named after these rebels of 1916 and all the nondescript concrete statues in every country town are dedicated to local heroes of the independence struggle. Any connection with the British military, however glorious the deeds or hardwon the medals, is considered embarrassing and unmentionable, like a rude noise in church.

When you cross the Border into the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, everything changes. The statues and monuments tell a different story. In each (Protestant) village and town there are prominent memorials to the Glorious Dead of the First World War. The Second World War, and the names of the dead, serve merely as a footnote. There is a very good reason for this. The First World War was a Blood Sacrifice, with casualties in every village and city street and it is held up dripping red in the face of each successive UK government whenever they talk of accommodation or compromise with the Irish Republic. We fought and died for you, say the Northern Loyalists, and these people in the South tried to stab you in the back. And don't you forget it!

This was at the back of my mind when I rented a car and drove around the battlefields of the Somme. To understand the logic behind what happened here you need to strip your mind of emotion and sentiment and look at the technology of the war, the mathematical calculations that controlled mass slaughter. This may indeed be what you set out to do, but it becomes impossible as the day wears on. The horror and the pity soon breaks through any attempt at a brisk and objective approach. Try as you may to keep your imagination in check, the cumulative effect of the rows and rows of headstones in the many — the so many — neatly-tended cemeteries bears down on you throughout the day. You feel sorry for all these young men. Then you begin to feel a rising anger at the way all these young lives were cut off. As the day progresses you become more and more benumbed by the enormity of the slaughter and your mind slips into a state of helplessness and dull disbelief.

The pressure to enlist was unrelenting Posted by Hello

In 1914 the Germans had been stopped in their push through Belgium into Northern France because they had allowed gaps to open between their three separate attacking armies. In a clumsy attempt to close these gaps they had suffered attack on their right flank by Gallieni and the new Paris army (hurried to the front in taxi cabs). They fell back from the River Marne to the River Aisne and dug in. The French and British attacked, took losses, and dug in also. Each side then tried to outflank the other to the west in a 'Race to the Sea' but this ended in a line of trenches stretching from the Belgian coastline south of Ostend to the Swiss border more than 900 kilometres away. A stalemate ensued, but the pressure was on the French and their British allies to recover lost territory.

French Mobilisation Order, August 1914 Posted by Hello

How had this mass slaughter begun? Historians explain it in terms of rivalries and alliances set in motion by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne. By early 1915 the causes of the war hardly mattered any more for the nations involved. Each was engaged in a struggle for national survival.

It was a new kind of warfare. Cavalry soon proved to be useless and infantry attacks on defended positions produced horrific casualties. It became an artillery war with each side pounding the defenses of the other. In September 1915 there was a major British offensive in which the poison gas they planned to use came floating back into their own trenches. As Robert Graves describes it: 'Come on!- 'Get back, you bastards!' - 'Gas turning on us!' - 'Keep your heads, you men!' -'Back like hell, boys!' - 'Whose orders?' - 'What's happening?' -'Gas!' - 'Back!' -'Come on!' - 'Gas!' - ''Back'. A 'bloody balls-up' is what the troops called it. The historians call it the Battle of Loos.

Mud and rain were a constant misery Posted by Hello

Warfare had entered the industrial age with a vengeance. There had been forewarnings in the American Civil War (repeating rifles, massed artillery), the Boer War (barbed wire, concrete strongpoints) and the Russo-Japanese War (better artillery, machine guns) but it took a long time for the First World War generals, many of them cavalry officers, to come to grips with these new conditions. The essential problem was that the infantry could not cover the ground to the enemy trenches, in spite of heavy bombardment, before the enemy reappeared from its deep dugouts to direct machine gun fire on the attackers and call in accurate artillery fire. Even if an attack were successful and overran the first line of trenches, the defenders could run back to a second or third line. The railways ran up to the support areas of the defending side so that reinforcements could be rushed into the battle more quickly and in far greater numbers than the surviving soldiers of the other side could press home an attack.

German bunker, Ypres Posted by Hello

In 1916 these facts had not yet been assimilated by the Allied Command. The British were planning a 'Big Push' to take some of the pressure off their French allies who were being hard pressed at Verdun. The attack was to be on a 40 km. front along the previously quiet sector of the Somme/Ancre valley. Three hundred thousand troops were shipped from England to rear areas in France and moved up to the line. Most of them were volunteers of Kitchener's New Army. These were young men with no previous military experience who had joined up in a rush of enthusiasm in 1914. Many of them had joined up together in the 'Pal's Battalions' which assured them of serving together with their friends and workmates. "Perhaps no story of the First World War is as poignant as that of the Pals," writes John Keegan, "It is a story of a spontaneous and genuinely popular mass movement which has no counterpart in the modern, English-speaking world and perhaps could have none outside its own time and place: a time of intense, almost mystical patriotism." This policy later turned out to be a public relations disaster when the casualty lists came to be posted: a whole generation of young local men were wiped out almost overnight so that factories, workplaces, city streets and whole villages were plunged into mass mourning.

 Posted by Hello

The pressure to enlist was unrelenting (2) Posted by Hello

One of these groups was much larger than a battalion (about 800-1000 men), or a brigade (3 battalions). It was a Division which numbered between 10-12,000 men and which saw upwards of 80,000 men pass through it before the war had ended. These were the hardline Sons of Ulster, the Protestant stalwarts of Northern Ireland who had joined the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) to oppose Home Rule for Ireland and fight against the British themselves, if need be, for the right to remain British. Civil war in Ireland had been the overriding concern in Britain during the summer of 1914, as the newspapers and diaries of the time show clearly. The illegal and possibly treasonous UVF (they had imported arms from Germany) enlisted en masse at the outbreak of war and were granted separate unit status within the British Army under their own officers. Under Kitchener's orders, Southern Irish volunteers were denied the same privilege and scattered among a variety of pre-existing regiments under English officers.

Kitchener makes it personal Posted by Hello

General Haig was the British Commander-in-Chief in France who planned the Somme offensive. He was a Lowland Scot, authoritarian, hardworking, dull, unimaginative; he planned to hurl his unseasoned troops at the enemy positions in hopes of a major breakthrough. He actually intended to send in the cavalry on the Somme -- this happened on one occasion near High Wood: horses and men were shot and blown to pieces -- since his main concern was to overrun the German trenches and restore a war of movement in the open land behind the enemy lines. He called up 1500 guns and laid down an onslaught on the German forward and support trenches that continued non-stop for 7 days and nights. When it was over he believed the New Army troops could simply walk over and take possession of the battered German defenses. As untrained troops, they were instructed to walk not run in order to keep their lines straight and orderly. The young citizen-soldiers were enthusiastic and eager to "have a crack at the Hun" as they collected in huge numbers at the junction of the Somme and Ancre rivers.

To get to this area of France (Picardy) you take the high-speed TGV from Paris to Lille then transfer to the local line to Arras. When you get to Arras you would do well to head for the Ould Shebeen, the Irish pub across the square from the station. This could save you a lot of time, particularly if your command of the French language is not that great (and the French outside Paris are resolutely monolingual). John O'Rourke, the owner, or Eoin or one of the boys will help you to find a hotel room and talk you through the particulars of a Rentacar contract. You need a car if you want to get about because the battlefields are extended over a wide area. If you are lucky (as I was) then Chris Farrell from the Commonwealth Graves Commission will drop by the pub and get talking to you. He will invite you to his office the following morning to get all the latest maps (modern roads marked with the old trenchlines) and give you much useful advice if you're not sure where to begin.

I knew where I was going to begin. I drove south on the main road to Bapaume and turned off on the road to Auchonvilliers ('Ocean Villas') which lies northwest of the town. Just outside this village is Beaumont Hamel, the jumping off point for the 29th Division. You can walk it, you can see what happened. The troops were getting pounded as they moved into their forward trenches (still there) even before the battle began because the Germans -- as usual -- were on higher ground.

Jumping-off trenches, Beaumont-Hamel Posted by Hello

When they went over the top the ground fell away in a slope and this left them lined up in rows for the machine guns. They were mowed down and slaughtered. The German lines in the Y-Ravine were only 400 metres away. You can walk that distance today over the grassy lumpy field (lots of grown-over shell holes ) and when you look back from the German side you can see how exposed they were, such perfect targets. The Newfoundland Regiment, fresh from Canada, took 75% casualties in this failed attack. In his novel "Tender is the Night" Scott Fitzgerald has his main character Dick Diver visit these same trenches with a group of friends: 'See that little stream --we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it -- a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs ... This western-front business couldn't be done again, not for a long time ... This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation between the classes.'

The Y-Ravine, Beaumont-Hamel Posted by Hello

Beyond these trenches on a high ridge to the right lies Thiepval. Here the 36th (Ulster) Division went over into a hailstorm of fire. So much for the destruction of the opposition by artillery. The Germans survived the high explosives in their deep dugouts and came out to meet the attack with machine guns. The trusting young soldiers who walked over in rows (walk, don't run) were shot down in their hundreds and thousands --'We were very surprised to see them walking," a German machine-gunner recalls, "We had never seen that before ... When we started firing we just had to load and reload. They went down in their hundreds. You didn't have to aim, we just fired into them." It was murder. Even the Germans sickened of the slaughter and ceased firing when the dazed survivors began stumbling back to their own lines. The young Edmund Blunden (war poet and later Professor of English at Tokyo University) concluded that the stalemate was hopeless. "By the end of the day," he wrote, "both sides had seen ... the answer to the question. No road. No thoroughfare. Neither (side) had won, nor could win, the War. The War had won, and would go on winning." Idealism and patriotic fervour died on the killing fields of the Somme. Youth entered a hard new era in which 'abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.' Hemingway could write this in 1929 ('A Farewell to Arms'); in the summer of 1914 no one would have understood what he was talking about.

The Ulster Division did as well as it could. In some parts of the line they managed to gain the opposing trenches but had to fall back later in the day. Many of them went over the top wearing their Orange Sashes screaming 'Fuck the Pope!' and 'King Billy Forever' and were machine-gunned into the mud. They died in droves. At the end of the day they had lost most of their officers and more than half of their men. It was a shambles.

On that one day, July 1, 1916, the British Army suffered 57,000 casualties, 20,000 dead. The wounded cried out for three days in the wasteland between the trenches. The British Army had never before and has never since lost so many men in a single attack.

It was reported , of course, as a victory. Truth is the first casualty of any war, and it had completely flown out the window by 1916 as both sides, aided by patriotic journalists, kept the factual horrors of the war carefully distant from the people at home. Haig persisted in a series of follow-up attacks which gained him about 4000 yards between August and November when the offensive was called off. He had lost 420,000 troops by then. The Germans had lost 280,000.

When you drive around this peaceful undulating landscape its occasional forests or collection of small woodlands (so deadly during the conflict) seem to be placed here and there with a very French sense of propriety, as if the inhabitants were in agreement with their forefathers that such long stretches of yellow and green farmlands needed to be interspersed with several tastefully placed acres of trees. It is hard to believe, it is inconceivable that so much concentrated violence took place over these rolling farmlands -- then little more than a sea of mud -- in which tens of thousands of young soldiers died. But the reminders are ever present in the form of the cemeteries.

The cemeteries are a map of the various attacks because they were built where the soldiers died. There are hundreds of these cemeteries scattered about the fields of Belgium and France, more than 400 in the region of the Somme alone, and each of them is carefully tended to this day by the Commonwealth (formerly Imperial) War Graves Commission. The larger ones such as Tyne Cot on the Passchendaele Ridge in Flanders contain thousands of graves in row after row after row. It is a chastening thing to walk among the headstones: name, regiment, 19 years old; name, regiment, 21 years old; name, regiment, 23 years old; name, regiment, 20 years old. On many of the headstones there are no names at all. The inscription reads 'A Soldier of the Great War' and underneath it says 'Known Unto God'. This means the poor fellow was blown into smithereens and they couldn't put the bits together. There are 73,077 names on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme and another 54,896 on the Menin Gate in Ypres which simply records the names of the men who disappeared. Many just sank into the mud and their bodies were never recovered.

War Graves near Albert (Somme), Posted by Hello

Even today the soil turns up its grim reminders. In Flanders and on the fields of the Somme the farmers turn up several tons of rusting shells every year. They are still dangerous and explosions claim the lives of about a dozen local people each year. The unexploded shells are placed at the sides of the road for the Army bomb squads to collect and detonate and this is done every year during the ploughing season. You can see them in small rusting heaps as you drive by on the road. You can stop and handle them. You can take one home as a souvenir if you like. After 88 years these things are still capable of exploding.

About 800 metres east of the village of La Boiselle on the Albert-Bapaume road is an enormous mine crater. The English dug under the German lines and blew them up with several tons of explosive. The crater sits in the fields today by the side of a narrow farm road: it is 30 metres deep and at least 50 metres in diametre. There is a cross nearby and because it was July (July is the anniversary of the 1916 battle and many, many English come over each summer) the cross was surrounded by hundreds of blood-red paper poppies, the symbol of the fallen soldiers. There were dozens of hand-written notes and prayers: But one note in particular caught my attention: surrounded by a wreath of poppies it read "In Memory of Private George Nugent, 3rd Tyneside Scottish, Killed 1st July 1916. Found at Lochnagar Crater October 1998." George Nugent had been missing for 82 years.

Of all the verses which recall the sacrifice of this army of the dead -- and it is a veritable army, since it has been calculated that it would take three and a half days for the dead of the British Empire alone, marching four abreast, to pass through central London -- the one that we have all heard seems to have passed into collective memory; "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:/ Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. / At the going down of the sun and in the morning/ We will remember them. " Geoff Dyer, in a gentle but penetrating meditation on the meaning of this war and the way we remember it, points out that the words were written by Laurence Binyon in September 1914: before the fallen actually fell. " 'For the Fallen'", he writes, "is a work not of remembrance but of anticipation, or more accurately, the anticipation of remembrance: a foreseeing that is also a determination."

Menin Gate interior, Ypres Posted by Hello

And this brings me back to the question which I am still unable to answer, and which compelled me to visit the battlefields that summer. Why does this war still exert such a mesmerising hold over the European (particularly British) imagination? It occurred nearly a century ago and within a short number of years -- if not already -- there will be no living survivors. Yet it resonates in our collective memory to a far greater extent than even the Second World War. Perhaps this is because we recognize that the Second War, for all its horrors, could never have been possible without the First. Hitler could never have become the leader of Germany without the humiliation of the German defeat in 1918. It would have been unthinkable for a civilized European nation at the heart of Europe to be taken over by a band of political thugs -- unless it had suffered such a shattering blow to its self-esteem that the social verities and the shared assumptions of the past quite simply fell apart. Nor, it must be said, would the French or British (not to mention the Americans) have tolerated Hitler's rise to power without the memories of the carnage of 1914-18. It was this memory of the countless dead which stayed their hands in the hope of a peaceful outcome.

It could be argued -- and I, for one, am inclined to believe this -- that the 20th century really only lasted for 75 years. It began with the guns of August 1914 and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Empire in November 1989. The First World War and its repercussions created this world.

This deeply traumatic war could probably have been avoided. The inevitability of history is a myth. When we look back on the past we tend to be severely critical in our judgements and conclusions with regard to the statesmen and politicians of the time, and even to the vagaries of popular opinion, because we already know what happens next. What we need to remember is that the past was the "present" for the people who lived through it and that for them the future was just as unknowable and as full of possible outcomes as it is for us today. Things could have turned out quite differently.

In August 1914 all the options had run out. War could no longer be avoided. After weeks of frantic but fruitless diplomacy the statesmen of Europe watched their stable and confident world march to the brink of a catastrophe whose horrors none of them could fully comprehend. One of them, the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, had an inkling of what was to happen. As he gazed from his office over the darkening streets of Whitehall he murmured, "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

(There is also a thoughtful article in the "New Yorker" -- mid-August 2004 -- which I would urge you to read).

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

433.5 The Conversion to Islam of Conor MacArt (Part 6)

An Comhshó a Ioslam de Conchubhair Mac Airt

Hezekiah's Tunnel, Old City, Jerusalem

Mar thoradh ar ár deoraíocht
mór dúinn a bheith iallach a leathnú
ár seirbhís ar eachtrannaigh *

God and Saint Patrick, the rising stink
would put you in mind of the Widow Fitzgerald
beyond in Bundoran, where there’d be Uncle Jack
having a right good go at her, no nose at all,
shot to hell away in Flanders; sure, no better man
for a gallop with Fitzy, that cheery oul’ trollop,
farting away in her yellowy petticoats …

Gawd’s syke, sir, you must pye attention!
What? Get away ye wee pillock … what, what’s that?
There is himminent dynjjer of han hexplosion.
Well I know that, do you think I’m a total idiot?
Don’t arsk me such questions, sir, not naow.
We were in a tunnel under the Old City of Jerusalem
with thousands of fire-breathing Moors above us.

Wha'? C'mere to me, ye wee feckin gobshite …
Shhh, sir, for Gawd’s sake, … keep it ruddy well dahn!
Thy’ll come pourin dahn on us like dunno bloody wot
wiv one fawss move, sir, an' we’ll be dead as mah’an
Dead as what? Sheep, sir! Speak for yourself, I hissed,
pulling out my pistol and a dagger for good measure.
And will you keep your voice down, you little swine!

Shane O’Neill, I thought, would be splitting his sides
If he could see me now, damn his liver and his lights!
A rush of the purest anger and hatred ran through me
thinking of Whatsername, my wife, and the wee kiddies
back in green and drizzly Ireland, and the state of me here,
crawling along a tunnel under the command of Sullivan,
Suleyman the Magnificent, as they do be calling him.

Between the two of them I’ve no life to be calling my own,
a shuttlecock I am, with them two evil-eyed murderous …
Sir ! WHAT!! I mean, what? And will you be quiet, Jayzus!
Some clarss of wroytin ahead, look, at the bend of the wawrl
What does it say? Quick, quick, man, what does it say??
Carn’t understand raghead lingo, sir, fought you might …
Arra, move aside, man, hand me over that thing in your hand:

Don’t you know
that I love you

Whass that, then sir? Important, is it?
No, no , just Jewish kids.
Hang on, there’s another bit down below:

Jesus Christ is a Wanker.
Feckin kids.

A sudden BANG put the fear of God in us,
and with a squeal and whimper I trod on the torch.
Utter total backness. Whassat, then? Eh?
The fuck should I know?!! We whispered angrily,
one to another in the darkness, and I aimed the pistol
at where I thought his head might be, slowly curled
my finger on the trigger … and counted 1 - 2 - 3

Christopher Christ!! The ceiling came down in a sudden crash,
and blinding sunlight bedazzled our eyes. Cascades of dust
clouded the cavern and I desperately dived for the darkness.
Shots rang out and I heard a high-pitched animal scream.
Bit of London in that sound, I was seriously fervently hoping,
am I rid at last of that evil murdering blackmailing bastard?
Voices: Hallo, sirr, hello my dear! Please look this way!

I peered out cautiously. Above there were dozens of them,
dozens of bearded, beatifically smiling, quite friendly faces,
aiming dozens of not so friendly muskets in my direction.
Not to be moving, please, dear sir, while we bring ladder!
That didn’t take long, and I was gently helped to the surface.
You will become our guest, sir. Ahh! And what about my man?
Oh, not to worry please, sir. He is very fine, quite safe safe.

(to be continued ....)

* As a result of our exile
we have been compelled to extend
our service to foreign nations

Sunday, October 23, 2011

456. Ireland in October


The relentless rain
hard and cold
lashes against the windows.

We pull across the curtains
lay more sods of turf
upon the flickering, sputtering fire.

We say nothing, pay attention
to our drams of single malt.

We hear, for we cannot ignore
the half-human howling shrieks
of the wild Atlantic winds.

I don't know, says Uncle Liam,
how much of this you can understand.


in this whitewashed cottage,
planted, perversely,
on the edge of nearly nowhere,
sits a four-poster bed
with sagging springs
in a room no longer used
nor visited; it is occupied now
by dust and sepia photographs.

The procreative urge:
a man and a woman within this room,
unleashed seven generations
of this failing family.

The pounding rain, the howling wind,
in times past, now, and in the coming times to be,
deride all our decent hopes, laugh at our faltering sense
of connection, mock our humanity.


On that upstairs bedroom wall
hangs a faded stitching sampler:
"God Bless Our Happy Home",
accomplished, by her own hand,
by Emily May MacCarthy,
on October 20, 1843.

She was the fifth of eleven children
and one of the seven
who starved to death
along with her despairing parents.

Tadgh and his brother Michael
crossed the wide and unknown ocean,
that angrily rolling sea beyond these windows,
and landed in Ameri-kay; they were lucky
to have missed the war in Mexico
and sent for their two surviving sisters.

Both brothers were killed in the Civil War,
not quite able to pay for "replacements",
and so died, bewildered, for Mr. Lincoln.

I descend from Maureen.
She was the second sister.


there are many many old photographs,
framed here and there on top of stolid furniture.
Dapper gentlemen with large moustaches.
Ladies with long dresses and wide-brimmed hats.
They stare into long-ago unforgiving lenses
with comical expressions of puzzled defiance.

At other times they pose stiffly,
arranged among the most tasteful studio
backdrops: a small side table,
a pillar or two, potted palms.
James Boyle Roche. Photographer.
15 Bridge Street. Ennis
is stamped discreetly, a faded oval
in the left-bottom corner: the building
still exists, the ground floor
is now a fast-food restaurant.


In some photographs
there are wedding couples,
tense and unrelaxed, they stare
sightlessly at us from the past
across a chasm of years
we can never never even begin
to comprehend. He sits, she stands,
but she places a tentative
pleading hand
upon his rigid manly shoulder.

There is another
out-of-place picture
of my great-uncle Marteen,
shot dead in our civil war.
A cocky 24-year-old
with a cheeky grin.
He sits, brandishing
an enormous revolver,
smoking a jaunty cigarette.
I can tell from the look of him
we could have had a drink.


Then there are cloche hats
on rather dumpy women,
the baggy suits on the gents
who grin and squint in the harsh sunlight
of long forgotten days; they sport
ridiculously shortened neckties
and all seem to be having
an awfully good time:
my unknown, unknowable
dead ancestors.

A flicker of empathy
if not of recognition
slips through
this threnody of regret.


Liam is uncharacteristically
subdued, even embarrassed:
he shifts from foot to foot, in front
of the now warm and blazing fire.

Listen, I think I'm going to bed,
it's been a really long day, I say.

Liam frowns. An awkward
silence ensues: Emmmm ...
Listen to me. There's something
I really need to tell you.
It's about the family ....

It's OK, Liam. No need.
It will keep for another hundred years.

455. The Joy of Creation

Three years ago, on an October Monday,
as rooks sarcastically called down from the trees,
he went into his final freeze, lost it, went gaga.
This cataclysmic event is recorded, we have it on CCTV,
downloaded, with GPS, faithfully burned to DVD.

Yet he regales us still with those tired familiar themes,
a combination of medium-grade pathos and low parody,
in those oh-so-catchy, rather tricky combinations,
so utterly repellent to his gaggle of critics,
so attractive to his growing legion of fans.

In a recent interview in Hello magazine
conducted in the artist’s rather dingy home,
stars of Daytime TV declined the offer of tea,
surrounded by cats (and quite possibly rats),
and half-eaten containers of ancient food.

The hirsute, the rather scantily-clad poet,
oblivious to winds whistling through broken windows,
insisted that inspiration came from the Attic Dance.
Rising from his bed of rubber, rather stubbly thorns,
(while admitting that nails were still rather beyond him)

He adopted a rigid and rather slantwise stance
at an angle of approximately forty degrees.
He had his left elbow on the windy window ledge
and his right leg gently waving in the air.
This, we were told, is how all good poems begin.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

454. Liberty & Security v Endless War

Don’t get me started on the Israelis, tearing their robes in sorrow. I’m as sorry as anyone about the Nazi Holocaust during WWII but why do the Palestinians have to pay for German sins? Why did America and European nations refuse to take in Jewish refugees from the Hitler terror even before the war broke out? Simple answer – didn’t care, didn’t want to. So now we dump the problem on others.

Palestine - A Land Without People for a People Without Land. Total and utter nonsense.

To this day the Irish government recognizes the State of Israel as ‘de facto’ and not ‘de jure’ which means that we accept the fact of its existence but not the ideology that lies behind it, i.e. Zionism, which we correctly and accurately describe as racist and selective.

We know all about this Chosen People brainwash from our own experience with a “Protestant State for a Protestant People” in the north of our own island. This kind of thinking is unacceptable in the modern world and the longer the Israelis persist in their persecution of the Palestians and their usurpation of their lands the longer our sympathies will remain with the Palestinians.

So-called terror tactics (all War is unleashed terror) bring no results without a strong political structure. A weaker power cannot afford tanks and airplanes (never mind uniforms) so it goes to war on the strength of a collective ideal – usually a fuzzy idea of liberty and the shape of things to come and a very sharp and focussed wish to expel unwelcome foreign occupation. You take horrific casualties and you wear your enemy down, and in the end you bring him into a negotiated settlement which is what happened not only in Ireland (first South, and then North) but also in Algeria and Vietnam. Also America in the 18th century, come to think of it. Other examples are there to be found. Try Google. Without a strong and united (and popularly supported) political structure behind the armed struggle, ready and able to negotiate with the Other Side, the guerrilla fighters are left out on a limb in a cycle of endless slaughter. This is the basic and essential factor that the Palestinians so far have not been able to get their heads around. And so the cycle grinds on.


Saturday, October 08, 2011

453. Iffy/ Jim

Biddy Maloney down the road had a cat called Iphigenia, Iffy, and they were a bit of a literary family and not above letting you know of it. There's a fox in the story as well, young Seamus, known as Jimmy, whose poor father, Pronsias (Francis) was eaten by the hounds of the wicked English when they were still hulloing hulloing about the place which was before the homemade landmines went in, the kind your granny could set off with a little red button. That was great craic altogether with everyone's granny blowing the shite out of the local landlords until there were none of them left at all at all. So we sent over a message to ask would they not send a few more across to us, but they said NO, in a rather bad-tempered way, and that's when we stopped paying rents and the like and it was a very depressing time altogether with no landlords shooting up into the air. Up in Dublin they call it the War of Independence but down here we called it Granny's Revenge. They were all raped as serving girls for this is what the English did and some (let's be fair) enjoyed it because if you don't ask for it, it's not your fuckin fault. Some of them were faultless 28 or 40 times before marrying 84-year-old psychopathic local farmers and glommed up the land when their husbands laid down on the road for a rest and got run over by the Clonakilty bus or else went off in the hills to talk to Lugh or Emer or Mananaan and got struck with lightning bolts for their pains. You don't want to be talking to ancient Celtic gods with short attention spans. Annyway, after the Red Button revolution didn't all the grannies die, one after another, all fuckin dead. God be with them, acushla mo chrói. Sure there was no more excitement, do you see? They had no interest in sex whatsoever, the average age being 85, and with no more landlords to blow to kingdom come, sure, what was the point of living? They died and the fairies came in. This aroused the community because the fairies wear very short dresses, stop growing at the age of 20, and look like Kylie Minogue on a very very good day.
Kylie says Hello ... what am I doing in this poem?

Well, things happened. There's an awful lot of good-looking kids skateboarding around the neighbourhood.

But there was always Iphigenia and Seamus. Never mind the grannies and the fairies and the English. These are passing things. The fields and the forests and the sky are forever.

Iphigenia was restless. She was lepping about like Biddy Maloney's goat, with the tail lashing hither and yon, the divil between us and all harm. Will yeh get off the fffn, (cough) table! Another cuppa? Yerra, Jayz and wouldn't I love one? O the split yellow eyes on you, you little so-and-so. Wait till I get you home! Tis in with the hens you'll be put waitin on Jimmy the Fox who'll come dashing in with the darkness of the night upon him and all the outraged hennies will be going chook-chook-chook and won't he be taking you away to Las Vegas, girl, or to some other strange and peculiar foreign part? Tis the long hard stroke of a father's hand you'd be needing, gerrl, but sure Jimmy will put the restraint upon yeh, and he but a young lad but the true son of his blessed father, God be good to him, taken up in the Hunt by the blashted English, God's curse on them for seven generations, and may their childer come out in spots and boils, but isn't he the good-lookin buckaroo with his eyes like diamonds and the flahhhoo of the red hair carefully set down, pomaded and ribboned in the way of a ginttleman, a squireen of the Old Blood, Dear God and Holy Mary, (ahh, would you stop your oul gallop?) Well then, sorr, isn't it like the Dana? Tuatha de Danaan, them as has gone below the ground?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

452: RWC - Ireland into the Quarter Finals

Ireland gets through to the Quarter-Finals of the Rugby World Cup on a sterling second-half performance by the Lads. Brilliant defense and great discipline in the face of several provocative incidents as the Italians grew ever more frustrated. Great teamwork with no glory-hogging as last second handoffs guaranteed the tries. O'Gara steady as a rock in the opening phases and best of all his replacement Johnny Sexton landed two difficult conversions in the closing quarter to lay to rest all those nagging questions about his loss of kicking form. An excellent performance and if the momentum holds we should just about edge Wales -- it will be a very tough match! -- and face either England or France in the semi-finals. Personally, I hope it's England since we get on OK with the French .... !!